Amid the good vibes of the Chicago Cubs’ big winter and hot start to the 2023 MLB season, there was one dark cloud on the horizon: The team had yet to lock up homegrown outfielder Ian Happ, who was entering the final year of his contract after several years of solid production.
The two sides met regularly throughout the spring, but once the Cubs broke camp and headed back up to Chicago it was assumed that talks would stall during the regular season. About that:
Outfielder Ian Happ and the Chicago Cubs are in agreement on a three-year, $61 million contract extension, sources tell ESPN. The deal will run from 2024-26 and takes one of the best potential free agent bats off the market. First on the scene was @Michael_Cerami.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) April 12, 2023
A former top-10 overall pick in the 2015 MLB Draft and top prospect, Happ has taken a long and winding road to stardom in Chicago. He could never seem to break through as a regular on the loaded Cubs contenders of the mid 2010s, being shuttled up and down from Triple-A to Wrigley Field and moved all over the diamond while battling a variety of injuries.
As that generation of Cubs stars began to move on, though, Happ thrived. He first broke out during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, then made his first All-Star Game last season while hitting 17 homers and nine steals with a career-best .271 average. The contract situation certainly didn’t seem to be weighing on his mind at all early in 2023, as Happ was hitting .314 with a homer, six RBI and a steal through 10 games.
All in all, roughly $20 million a year is more than a fair price to pay for Happ, who was worth 4.4 bWAR last year and is squarely in his prime at 28 years old. He should provide well above average offensive production with solid corner outfield defense, plus the ability to stand in center when needed, and this locks in a key piece to what is fast-becoming a contending Cubs team.
With Happ, Seiya Suzuki, Dansby Swanson and Nico Hoerner all under team control for several years to come — plus plenty of young talent biding their time in Triple-A — Chicago could be a menace in the NL Central for the foreseeable future. (Although this deal does raise questions as to what the organization has planned for young outfielders like Pete Crow-Armstrong, Brennan Davis and Owen Caissie.)